Ronnie O’Sullivan is chasing snooker history this month but claims he would rather run a sub-three-hour marathon than win a seventh world title.
O’Sullivan heads to the spiritual home of snooker, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, as defending champion, after claiming a sixth title by beating Kyren Wilson 18-8 in the final of last year’s rearranged World Championship in August.
Stephen Hendry is the only seven-time world champion of the modern era – all won during a dominant 1990s – and O’Sullivan can match that feat a full 20 years after notching his first world crown.
Yet the 45-year-old has always had a complicated relationship with snooker’s most iconic tournament, insisting he struggles with boredom and a lack of focus during the 17-day event each year, despite his incredible success over the past two decades.
The snooker marathon may not be to his tastes but the 26-mile, road variety does appeal to O’Sullivan – who has long been a keen runner – and after recently stating that completing the test of endurance in under three hours is one of his life goals, he knows which achievement he would treasure more.
“I’d probably take the sub-three-hour marathon over a seventh world title to be honest,” admitted O’Sullivan, who is a regular contributor for Eurosport across their snooker coverage.
“A lot of my wins at the World Championship have been a bit of an anti-climax – you get the win but you’re just relieved it’s over.
“I’ve always said it’s not my favourite tournament. It is like trying to get Usain Bolt running a 5k or a 10k.
“He could probably do it, train for it but he’s not going to enjoy it. He would much rather do the 100m or the 200m – boom, boom boom, done and dusted, lap of honour and then out of there on his jet.
“For me, the World Championship is a bit like that – it goes on too long and I lose interest. I get a bit bored up there.
“Doing my running helps and when the environment is right, you can relax a little bit more into it. But it’s definitely not suited to my personality as much as some of the other tournaments.”
O’Sullivan admits that the goal of running 26.2 miles in less than three hours is not achievable while his snooker career is still ongoing – with The Rocket estimating it would take him two years of hard graft, and possibly some altitude training in Kenya, to reach that standard.
That may have to wait, as his success on the baize is showing no signs of slowing down – his sixth world title eight months ago taking him to 20 career Triple Crown (World Championship, UK Championship and Masters) wins and 37 ranking event victories, both all-time records.
He has made a further five ranking event finals this season and while, in a very un-O’Sullivan way, he has lost all five, that is no cause for concern.
“The players I’ve come up against in those finals have played brilliantly well,” he said. “Out of the five finals, there were two where I was pretty happy with my game.
“With the other three, I probably could have made the score a bit more respectable if I’d had been prepared to dig in a bit more.
“I just thought I’d rather lose 10-4 and it take nothing out of me rather than losing 10-8 and throwing the kitchen sink at it. One is a bit easier to recover from.
“Sometimes it’s about picking your battles. It’s not a sprint, if I plot my way around and do certain things I’ll be in good shape.”
The World Championship – which gets underway on Saturday and runs until May 3rd – may not be his favourite event but the prospect of matching Hendry’s record is surely a tantalising one.
However, with his mantle as one of, if not the greatest, snooker player of all-time long since secure, O’Sullivan is adamant the pressure on his shoulders is somewhat relieved.
“I don’t think I need to win anything else to cement my legacy,” he added. “I never thought I’d win one world title, so I’m certainly not going to complain if I don’t get to seven. I am over the moon with what I have achieved.
“I just want to go there and enjoy my snooker and I need to play well to enjoy it.
“I can’t struggle with my game and enjoy playing. I have accepted that about myself – I only want to play snooker and really get excited about it if I am in my slot, in my groove, timing the ball well and it’s all coming easily to me.
“It’s not an easy game but sometimes it feels easy. Then, I am going to put everything on the line and squeeze as much out of this lemon as I can!
“If I am not doing that, I’m not prepared to go through the pain barrier as much anymore. I’ve made a pact with myself that if things aren’t quite going right, then a defeat isn’t the end of the world.”
Watch the World Snooker Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from 17 April - 3 May.